S23: Human Rights & Mental Health Services: A Double-Whammy Recolonisation for Marginalised Populations?

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By September 3, 2019 No Comments

Authors: Neeraj Gill

Year: 2019

Event: 2019 TheMHS Conference

Subject: Human Rights & Mental Health Services: A Double-Whammy Recolonisation for Marginalised Populations?

Type of resource: Conference Presentations and Papers

Abstract: Neeraj Gill is a psychiatrist at Gold Coast Health and Associate Professor and Clinical Lead, Mental Health, Griffith University, Gold Coast. He has previously been the Clinical Director of Toowoomba/Darling Downs Mental Health Service (2010-2014) and Medical Director of Gold Coast Mental Health Service (2015-2017). He worked as consultant to the Queensland Mental Health Commission in 2015 and acted as the Chief Psychiatrist, Queensland Health in 2017 and 2018. He is doing his Doctorate of Public Health (DrPH) at University of New South Wales on 'human rights of people with mental disabilities.

The modern human rights framework, based on respect for inherent dignity of all humans, was crystallized by the United Nations through Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) 2006 embedded the rights of individuals with disabilities, including mental disabilities, into the international law. However, people with mental disabilities, especially the most disadvantaged groups e.g. Indigenous peoples, the homeless, prisoners, refugees and asylum seekers continue to face gross violation of their human rights. For example, Maori people in New Zealand and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia are significantly more likely to be subject to compulsory psychiatric treatment and experience seclusion. This double whammy of having a mental disability and being marginalized has been called ‘re-colonization of marginalized populations’.

Minimizing/eliminating involuntary treatment and seclusion/restraint require systematic voluntary options e.g. community-based and recovery-oriented mental health services and legislation that incorporates a respect for individual autonomy through advance health directives and supported decision-making principles. In addition, the government policies at all levels must promote empowerment, social inclusion and economic participation of individuals with mental disabilities and vulnerable population groups by promoting positive rights to housing, healthcare, education and employment. Most importantly, society at large has to commit to inclusive human development and social equity, especially for disadvantaged individuals facing capability deprivation.

This symposium will discuss the violations of human rights faced by vulnerable populations and identify potential solutions to ‘close the gap’ by focusing on legislation, policy and practice.


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Gill NS. Human rights framework – an ethical imperative for psychiatry. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 2019, Vol 53 (I) 8-10

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